NEW ORLEANS - The Alliance for Diversity & Excellence (ADE), an organization that advocates for quality schools and offers support and mentorship for educators, continues their "Leaders Who Inspire Us," digital campaign. The campaign highlights educational leaders who are guiding and influencing other educators in their field. This month, ADE recognizes Melanie Askew, Founder and Head of School at Élan Academy.
1. How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?
As a school that continues to expand each year, our teachers have ample opportunities to support Élan Academy's foundation. I have an open-door policy and often ask our team how we can make our school better. This year, teachers have proposed new afterschool programs for 2021-2022. I have also had teachers make curriculum suggestions and recommendations that we have and will continue to implement.
2. Name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as an educational leader.
Dr. Steve Perry has had a tremendous impact on my trajectory as an educational leader. After learning about his work in my Master's program, I was inspired to pursue educational leadership. I studied his interviews, read the books, researched his school, and wrote down a plan to create a school that would provide a strong foundation for our students to thrive in secondary school, succeed in college, and access lives of opportunity. It was a privilege to meet Dr. Perry a few years ago and thank him in person.
3. What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader in the educational sector?
If you are interested in becoming a better leader, I believe that effective leadership development is critical. I send my leaders through the BES Leaders for Emerging Networks of Schools Program (LENS). LENS provides year-long, part-time training and coaching to prepare new and emerging leaders to take on heightened leadership roles in schools.
I encourage leaders to establish mentor relationships with leaders who are doing excellent work. I saw Lagra Newman, Founder and Head of School of Purpose Preparatory School in Nashville, TN, consistently leading her scholars to strong results and completed a leadership residency at her school. We currently meet bi-monthly to discuss any problems that I may face and need support.
Locally, educators and leaders Alexina Medley, Kristi Hubbard, and Sametta Brown serve as guiding mentors. As a young leader in the work, I appreciate their words of encouragement, accountability, transparency, and willingness to support. Having individuals who understand the job and are willing to invest time to help you, knowing that it will impact the greater community is an invaluable resource.
4. What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time or looking to pursue a leadership role?
I would encourage them to find someone that is a model for the position they seek. Learn everything about what they are doing and the journey it took to get them there. Then, make it your own. Understand all that comes with leadership, as it is no easy feat. Be humble. Having a clear vision and rallying others to support that vision takes skill and consistency. Understanding that you are responsible when things do not go right and that you have to have big shoulders to carry that weight. Have clarity on the importance of the community that surrounds you and know that together is better.
5. Why do you think it's important for Black educators to participate in leadership programs such as Alliance for Diversity and Excellence?
The charter landscape often feels divided due to the competition that exists between schools. Programs like ADE not only build coalitions of educators that can create synergy and learn together but creates a diverse pipeline of leaders of color to shape and define the future of public education. We have a large variety of teacher preparation programs but lack programs that focus on developing leaders of color. Often, our challenges are different from those who are of the majority. ADE has created a program that does precisely that. I encourage all Black educators to participate.